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Pa. vigil unites those left in suicide's wake

May 01, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Jamie McCauley lights votive candles near the conclusion of Tuesday night's Lights for Life candlelight vigil at Trinity United Church of Christ in Waynesboro, Pa.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Through shared stories, hugs, tears and candlelight, a group of 40 people Tuesday night remembered loved ones lost to suicide and tried to raise awareness about the issue.

The Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties hosted its seventh candlelight vigil focused on suicide. The event at Trinity United Church of Christ was the organization’s first vigil in Waynesboro.

Three people shared their experiences with suicide with the group.

Linda Baird of Chambersburg, Pa., said her son’s family and friends did not know he had stopped taking antidepressants nine months before his death in 2008 at age 33.

“It’s the kind of tragedy that drives you to your knees asking God to make sense of something so senseless,” Baird said.

She now facilitates a “survivors of suicide” group and has written a book.

“Sadly, we know Steve’s story is not uncommon,” Baird said. “As survivors, we struggle with the ‘why?’”

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A. Kenneth Wuertenberg, executive director of the mental health association, opened the vigil by saying that new research has found one in four people faces a mental illness like schizophrenia, clinical depression or bipolar disorder. He said the illnesses contribute to suicide rates.

“It has more than reached the point where we should consider this a national tragedy, and we don’t,” Wuertenberg said, noting that the attitudes need to change one community at a time.

According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as provided by the mental health association, 19 people died of suicide in 2011 in Franklin County. Those statistics indicate 19 people committed suicide in 2010, 20 people in 2009 and 17 people in 2008.

Delmas Bard of Warfordsburg, Pa., credited his wife’s observations with saving him from a suicide attempt.

“I couldn’t control my emotions anymore,” Bard said as he detailed the family and work situations that caused stress.

Bard, who learned about depression in a psychiatric ward, is the pastor of Faith Assembly of God in Warfordsburg. He is chairman of the board of supervisors in Brush Creek Township, also in Fulton County, Pa.

“I have as many problems now as I did then, but I’m a different person,” he said.

Bard, Baird and the third speaker, the Rev. Danielle Dickey Neff, all said they want to help others.

“Training, interventions, and mental-health degrees and certifications are great, but they mean nothing if we can’t remember suicide and its tentacles take its hold in people,” said Neff, a Waynesboro native.

Counselors were on hand at the event to talk with people individually.

If you need help

The Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties’ “help line” can be reached at 717-264-2916 or 866-593-8351.

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